Another Amazing Einstein

My current hometown, Colorado Springs, once was home to a third degree cousin of Albert Einstein. Dr. Otto Einstein was born in Hechingen, Germany in 1876, graduated from high school in Ulm in 1895, and from medical school in Tübingen in 1900. He practiced pediatrics in Stuttgart for thirty-five years, before he escaped Hitler’s anti-Semitic genocide at the last minute, in April 1939. Most of his children left Germany in the early 1930s, but Dr. Einstein opted to stay, caring for his Jewish patients as long as possible. Like other Jewish physicians, he had volunteered during WWI, and as late as 1935 was awarded a Medal of Honor, which likely conferred a degree of protection, even though he was demoted to Krankenpfleger (male nurse) and expelled from the German Society of Pediatricians in 1938.

After fleeing from the dinner table with his wife Jenny, the Einsteins’ first refuge was Nicaragua. Dr. Einstein worked at a missionary hospital of the Moravian church for nine months, while awaiting a visa to enter the United States. Albert Einstein pleaded with the authorities in a handwritten note for permission for his cousin to enter the country. Once granted, the Einsteins arrived in New Orleans by steamship in 1940. They lived in Denver for two years, where Dr. Einstein’s eldest son was a doctor. Otto found employment as a resident physician at National Jewish Hospital, a center for the treatment of tuberculosis. Colorado was among the premiere destinations for consumptives, on account of its purported beneficial climate, and Dr. Einstein started a new career as a tuberculosis specialist at sixty-four – an age when most individuals at least ponder retirement.


Memorial Plaque at the site of the former Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium

In 1942, Dr. Einstein moved to Colorado Springs and was hired by the Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium, the city’s largest. After 1947, he dedicated the remaining years of his life to the care of patients at Cragmor Sanatorium. This establishment for well-heeled patients opened in 1905/06. In 1952, it was leased by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as a treatment center for Navajo (Diné) women from Arizona, with the goal to cure their disease with newly discovered antibiotics. Patients and staff described him as a caring, gentle individual who tried to ease his charges’ physical and emotional pain. Despite communication barriers created by his heavily accented English, he and his American Indian patients were able to comprehend one another.


The former Cragmor Sanatorium, now Main Hall of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS)

A principled man, Dr. Einstein insisted on paying for medications taken from the pharmacy for personal use, and on tearing up uncanceled stamps. A lifelong scholar, he studied subjects as diverse as medicine and comparative religion. He worshiped at Temple Beth El, the Reform Jewish congregation in Colorado Springs. It was there that he eulogized Albert’s life after the Nobel Laureate’s death in 1955. Five years earlier, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph had printed an interview in which he reminisced about their childhood friendship in Germany and several stays at Princeton with the famous physicist and his wife Elsa, who also happened to be a cousin of Jenny. After Dr. Einstein’s death of myocardial infarction in 1959, a few days shy of his 83rd birthday, he was buried at the Sons of Israel Cemetery, adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery.

Dr. Einstein was survived by his wife Jenny, their two sons, Robert and Georg, two daughters, Lisa and Eva, and a son, Hans, from Jenny’s first marriage. While all have passed in the interim, numerous grandchildren and their offspring are alive today.

I first learned about Dr. Einstein in a book about Cragmor Sanatorium, Asylum of the Gilded Pill, by retired UCCS Professor Douglas R. McKay. During an exploration of our local cemeteries, I stumbled across Dr. Einstein’s distinctive gravestone which heightened my curiosity. When I found the eulogy given by his rabbi, I called several synagogues to find more information about him. One obliging secretary put me in touch with Dr. Perry Bach who is working on the completion of a series of books, Jewish Colorado Springs. He was most gracious, shared his knowledge, and put me in touch with a family member of Dr. Einstein, architect Alan Gass of Denver, the designer of the tombstone, who filled in additional gaps. While visiting Stuttgart last fall, I discovered more archival sources about Dr. Einstein’s life in Germany.

This short biographical sketch is my attempt to shed a little more light on a remarkable person whose extraordinary life is too little known.

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A Castle in Colorado

Castles in Germany are not infrequent. For many sightseers they epitomize Europe’s charm and myth, and any American who has taken a cruise on the Rhine will have dozens of photos to share with relatives back home. Even during my last trip to Germany I happened across several castle ruins during everyday activities. But castles in Colorado? Even if the Rocky Mountains form their own towers, turrets, and battlements, drawbridges are not among the natural features. Nonetheless, Colorado boasts a fully-formed castle, complete with drawbridge (even if there is no moat – yet) and it is a well-known area landmark, as the ever-present column of cars lining the roadside attests.


I speak of Bishop Castle, located along State Highway 165, in Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest, about 73 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. The embodiment of one man’s vision, Mr. Jim Bishop has worked on his magnum opus for nearly 60 years, according to the official website, and since his marriage in 1967, has had the support of his wife Phoebe. It is still a work in progress, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that moat were to show up after all, water shortage in the West be damned. This seems to encapsulate the attitude of the builder who has no qualms about voicing his controversial social and political opinions and who has fought tooth and nail with local and national entities about the legality of his project. Nevertheless, he has withstood any and all attempts at derailing him from the fulfillment of his design.


Even though my husband and I have heard about the castle, have even seen photos of it, when we finally stand before it, we are not prepared for the gargantuan edifice fashioned of local rock, glass and what must amount to miles and miles of ironworks.


The tallest tower tops out at 160 feet, and the tallest chimney terminates in a dragon. On the sunny autumn day of our attendance, we are deprived of the smoke-spewing spectacle which greets guests on rare occasions. Entry through the lowered drawbridge is free, but donations are welcome, as most construction costs have been financed by Mr. Bishop himself, besides those willing to fund his quest.


Many of the rooms spread out over three stories remain unfinished, some are drafty for lack of glass in the windows, but each is endowed with its own character.


We marvel at a succession of elegant arches, before entering a generous hall on the third floor. Its pointed ceiling, bisected by ornate welding, and lofty windows invoke the nave of a Gothic cathedral and its solemn atmosphere invites reflection and pause.


Narrow staircases lead us higher and higher, until stone gives way to metal porches and walkways hugging the exterior walls.


The castle, at an elevation of 9,000 feet, is surrounded by mountains and trees and affords glimpses of Colorado’s Great Plains in the East.


The 360 degree view from the birdcage-like globe and bridges which grace the building like a filigreed crown makes up for the slight queasiness resulting from the structure’s gentle swaying in Colorado’s fall breeze, but to those afraid of heights, my advice is not to climb beyond the third story.


Opinions about Bishop Castle and the person behind it range from approval to severe condemnation. Yet none of the visitors on site seems able to resist a sense of awe and admiration. I can’t help but reflect on the quest of another misunderstood knight, having recently re-read and re-considered the meaning of Don Quixote. I know I am a hopeless romantic, but I am impressed with and inspired by Jim Bishop who dared to follow his dream and left us a dreamlike legacy.

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Where Do Babies Come From?

The dark point circling in the sky assumes shape, size, and color with diminishing distance, and soon I recognize a large white bird with long red legs and beak. Its head points straight forward, its white wings and black trailing feathers beat measuredly up and down. I am not the only one who anticipates its return. Before me, inside a stick nest on top of a tall pole, two nestlings flap their wings impatiently. Once the adult alights and regurgitates food, the offspring commence to devour it hungrily, while the regal elder surveys the surroundings. Luckily, at a distance of 100 yards I pose no threat, for all three ignore me.


After five minutes, the adult takes off again and leaves the young ones to their own devices. Until the next visitation by mother or father, who are not easily distinguished at first glance (the males tend to have thicker and longer bills), the youths fill their time inside their nursery by sitting, pacing or pumping their wings in preparation for the day in the not too distant future when they will fledge. They observe their environs and a cock crowing nearby captures their attention. Their heads turn in synchrony toward that sound, rendering their black beaks obvious, a contrast to the adults’ bright red ones.


I know of this White Stork nest in the southern portion of Hessen in West-Central Germany from a previous visit. In June 2015 I reach it by first ferrying across the Rhine River from my childhood home in Rheinhessen, and by riding 5 miles on my bike. I am thrilled to find it occupied again, and elated to observe clusters of storks in the sky overhead. Ten individuals suddenly descend, land behind a tractor, and follow its wake, where they pierce whatever scuttles underneath their beaks.


Culinarily not choosy, their menu includes earthworms, insects, fish, frogs, snakes and small rodents. Nearby, in the town of Biebesheim, I find the explanation for their abundance when I happen across an animal refuge which is home to a stork colony. The air is filled with the sounds and sights of storks. They are coming and going, feeding, and clattering their elegant bills. This latter activity translates as klappern and is responsible for one of many common German names of this beloved creature, Klapperstorch.


White Storks typically lay three to four eggs, and in times of abundance as many as seven, but only two to three hatchlings survive into adulthood. After 33 days they emerge from the eggs and the nestlings mature for two months before they take flight. Called European White Storks, their distribution is not limited to that continent. Breeding also occurs in Asia Minor and the various flocks migrate to their wintering grounds in Africa. This happens in two distinct patterns. From Western Europe they fly across the Straits of Gibraltar to West Africa, whereas eastern groups follow a route across Turkey, the Bosporus Strait, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gulf of Suez to reach East and South Africa. The flight path across the Mediterranean Sea, albeit much shorter, is not feasible because it lacks the required thermal uplifts which are only generated where soil is heated by sun.

Growing up in Germany forty years ago I never encountered wild storks. This did not prevent me from following a folk custom related to me by my grandparents. To encourage the birds to bring me a sibling, I placed many a sugar cube on the windowsill. Sadly, it didn’t work. In school in the 1980s, I learned that these magnificent avians were threatened by extinction and their future appeared dire. All the more welcome the news that their numbers have not only stabilized, but have grown in the last decades, in Western even more than in Eastern Europe.


This recovery of their ranks is at least partially attributable to changing migratory patterns (many of the storks overwinter on the Iberian peninsula where they find enough food, instead of undertaking the treacherous trip south), but human preservation efforts also play a role in the storks’ success story. Provision and caretaking of breeding spaces on tall poles or rooftops, restoration of wetlands and meandering streams, decreased use of pesticides, and insulation of high-power utility lines to lessen the risk of electrocution contribute to attracting breeding pairs, and to promoting the survival of their offspring.

In this day and age when we are overwhelmed by sad tidings about the demise of so many species, the example of the White Stork reminds and admonishes us that we humans are, indeed, able to protect and share habitat through concerted efforts. I am happy that the legendary storks which populate German nursery rhymes, songs and myths once again populate the German landscape.

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Geraldine Brooks: Some Thoughts on her Books

I had my first encounter with the eloquent writing of Geraldine Brooks in her novel Year of Wonders (2001), about the 1666 outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam, an English village. It brings the horrors of the epidemic alive through the eyes of the maid Anna whose life is derailed in unforeseen ways. She evolves from an exploited servant without rights to a powerful, independent woman, a transformation unthinkable without the horrendous happenings in her world. The breathtaking plot which is permeated with poetic currents aroused my curiosity about the author, and I have since read her entire oeuvre.

Brooks (born 1955) started her career in journalism and her first books were non-fiction. Nine Parts of Desire (1994) deals with the lives and challenges of Muslim women in more or less misogynistic societies and is as relevant today as two decades ago. Foreign Correspondence (1997) celebrates her reunions with international pen pals from her childhood years in Australia, resulting in some very poignant moments. I find both works extremely well written and informative.

Following the international bestseller, A Year of Wonders, her second novel, March (2005), soared even higher and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. It envisions the experiences of the father of the March family from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, during the American Civil War. Besides Ms. Alcott’s beloved classic, Geraldine Brooks credits her husband, fellow writer and civil war buff, Tony Horwitz, with the inspiration for the story.

People of the Book (2008) imagines the convoluted journey of an actual illuminated manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish text used in the celebration of Passover Seder, which disappeared temporarily from the library in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. It portrays a fascinating account of Europe’s history between the close of the Middle Ages and the present.

Caleb’s Crossing (2011) presents another female first person narrator, Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan girl in Martha’s Vineyard in 17th century Colonial America. Her missionary father wants to convert the local Wampanoag tribe to Christianity and tutors Caleb, son of a local leader, in order to enable him to enter Cambridge College as the first American Indian. Bethia, starved for education, steals snippets of information from her brother’s lessons from which she is excluded, and befriends Caleb. Both actions break many sacrosanct taboos of the era. She represents what might have been, had more colonists been more curious and less prejudiced about the original inhabitants of North America.

Even though I anticipated Brooks’s most recent publication in 2015 and purchased it soon thereafter, I did not actually read it until a few weeks ago which prompted me to put down these reflections. The Secret Chord details the age of the biblical King David and his large entourage about 1000 BC. It arcs from his childhood, characterized by his father’s and brothers’ contempt, to his rise from shepherd to King Saul’s protégé, after his slaying of Goliath, to his own career as King of a united Judah and Israel. Guided by the prophet Natan, who is able to foresee calamity, but not forestall it, David is human — with human strengths and foibles. Tribal and family feuds are brought on by polygamy, adultery, incest, warfare, treachery, fratricide and several attempts at regicide, yet it ends on a conciliatory note, namely the crowning of King Solomon, David’s son, and with the promise of a brighter and more peaceful future. While the writing characteristically is a mixture of suspenseful action and lyrical reflection on nature’s beauty, and David’s legendary skills as a poet and accomplished harpist, I could have done without the vivid descriptions of brutal dismemberments and disembowelments, and the lurid portrayal of a violent rape.

Geraldine Brooks has a predilection for historical fiction which corresponds to my own. Her extremely well-researched stories bring events, people, and even the language of bygone times to a luminous life. I can’t wait for the future fruits of her pen, and for the comments of other fans.

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